UWFox Student Balloon Mapping ProgramDo-it-yourself balloon mapping is a great way to create original remotely sensed data at a very low cost, all while getting students involved in creating and processing geographic data for various uses. At UWFox, I've been developing a student balloon mapping program where under my supervision, students launch a tethered weather balloon with an attached camera to create geographic imagery of various points of interest. It's an activity that really allows students to get a hands-on educational experience with remote sensing and GIS.
Launches and ResultsThus far, we've had one launch of an imaging mission:
Launch 01 - December 5, 2012
Our initial launch! The mission's objectives were to create high resolution and up-to-date remotely sensed imagery of the UWFox campus and to experiment with best practices for balloon mapping. Imagery was generated to support GEO 106's final project, in which the class mapped the campus's trees. (Read Full Launch Report...)
Launch 02 - Early February 2013
Our second launch will be improving the best practices learned during Launch 01 while demonstrating remote sensing technologies to the GEO 125 course. Mission may include thermometer and altimeter in payload as well.
ResourcesIn the spirit of DIY mapping, which is fully crowd-sourced and typically open source / creative commons, I've begun gathering and creating resources for those who'd like to get started with balloon mapping.
We purchased the Balloon Mapping Kit from BreadPig, which includes the balloon, a 1000' tether/winder and various hardware for setting up the rig. At $95 plus shipping, it's a pretty good deal and is completely reusable if you're careful. We also purchased a Canon Powershot a4000 IS for this purpose. We bought Canon because it's a trusted brand, this model is inexpensive ($79 on sale), because it has continuous shooting and because many Canon cameras can be hacked using CHDK (though, as we found, not this model quite yet!).
There are several software solutions that help out. If you're using a Canon camera, try using CHDK to hack the firmware. It only supports certain models of Canons, but can't hurt your camera and might make it far more useful. When preparing your photos for mapping, you'll probably want to process them in a photo editor like Photoshop. I recommend automating the actions (see this helpful PS guide) to make the process less repetitive for you. PublicLabs offers MapKnitter, a web app that's relatively intuitive and does a great job stitching together and geo-referencing imagery. Mapknitter also outputs to a "dumb" JPG or a GeoTIF, so that the imagery can be used in packages like QGIS.
Instructions addendum and classroom assignment.
ThanksSpecial thanks to Dr. Beth Johnson, UWFox geologist, for providing another pair of hands and eyes on launch day!
I wish I could say that the inspiration for this project was all mine, but this program was inspired by the work of various fellow geographers, including Andrew Foy at Radford and Alan McConchrie (UBC) and Britta Ricker (SFU). Thanks guys!